NBC's Today Despairs That Team Bush Ruined Clinton Progress in North Korea

As they padded for time waiting for a live statement on the North Korean nuclear test from President Bush in the 9 am hour of Today on Monday, NBC's Andrea Mitchell scolded that Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright were building reconciliation between North and South Korea, but Bush came in and ruined it, overruling his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, "cutting him off at the knees." Typically, Today co-host Matt Lauer insisted the North Korean nuclear test was just the latest in a string of bad news for Bush, from Iraq and Iran to the Mark Foley page scandal.

Matt Lauer led into the Clinton-praising section: "Andrea, I have to say as David [Gregory] mentioned a second ago, when I was there a few years ago it was surprising to me that there is starting to be this communication and actual physical contact between South and North Korea. This, there's a super highway being built that really connects the two."

Andrea Mitchell: "Exactly. Well that and the rail connections. All of this as the new Sunshine policy that David alluded to but that came right up against the Bush administration's decision to cut off the connections. You know Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright were progressing in October and November of 2000 towards the restoration of diplomatic relations and if the Democrats had won that election that probably would've happened. Colin Powell recommended very strongly as the new Secretary of State in 2001 that, that policy be pursued. But it was cut short in March of 2001 by President Bush, overruling his new Secretary of State, some people said, cutting him off at the knees. That was the first real setback for Powell and then telling South Korea, the South Korean ally on the first visit in March 2001 that they would not support, the Bush administration would not support, re-engagement with North Korea. So there've been a lot of starts and stops but as David was, was pointing out and as you point out the South does want to re-engage. They have every reason, politically, to want to do that but this is not something this administration has really been comfortable with."

Lauer: "Alright Andrea thank you very much. Tim Russert is NBC's Washington bureau chief, of course, moderator of Meet the Press and let's talk about the timing of this, Tim. It's been a bad few weeks for the administration. We've got problems in Iraq that seem to be getting worse. We've had the situation with Iran and the whole UN situation a couple of weeks ago, then the, the page scandal and the email scandal in Congress and now the administration wakes up to this nuclear test from North Korea."

Russert: "Well Matt it is very important issue. Obviously back in May of 2003 President Bush said, quote, 'We will not tolerate North Korea having nuclear weapons.' And so he has drawn the line and now three years later North Korea is very much testing George Bush. It is ironic when they tested their long range rockets it was on the Fourth of July and now they've chosen Columbus Day to undertake this nuclear test. So it's very much a symbolic poke in the eye at the U.S. basically saying, 'we're gonna do what we want to do and you said we couldn't, what are you gonna do about it?' And this puts the President in a very difficult position."

Lauer: "Well what does he do about it? I mean what can he say today, what tone should he strike to send a proper message?"

Russert: "Well if you talk to military people Matt, they believe that the war in Iraq is one that is very much a strain on our assets. I don't find any one who believes that, at this time, a military action against North Korea is something that is being considered in a serious way. I think the President's first attempt will be at sanctions and the difficulty there, of course, is getting China and other countries to go along with them and so I expect some very strong words, some strong rhetoric, if you will, as the administration tries to buy time and figure out exactly what to do."

It's not exactly like the Clinton "engagement" strategy made them peaceful. Why can't NBC acknowledge that the North Koreans made a deal with the Clinton team, and then cheated on it? Oh, they did. Gregory noted the cheating, and then moved on. A tyranny like North Korea's doesn't find it difficult to cheat, and yet still stay in the good graces of global public opinion, as Western reporters see only diplomatic and military paralysis as the options:

He wants his regime to stick around and he has sought, before, security guarantees from the West. And you go way back to 1994 and the Clinton administration they negotiated an agreement with North Korea that said basically, 'Stop your weapons program, cold.' And the North Koreans started cheating on that toward the end of a 10 year period. So then President Bush comes to power, doesn't like the idea of negotiating with the North Koreans because he doesn't think that they negotiate in good faith and they cheat. And so you had a kind of freeze on diplomatic activity and then all of a sudden you have the so-called Six Party talks where you had regional players including the U.S. and Russia putting that pressure on to say, 'You can't continue a nuclear program.' And then finally North Korea has just pulled out of that process as well. So there's been all of this dancing going on."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis